Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, the dawn was yet to break over Yonder Lake. With each passing moment, however, more and more emerged from the shadows of the night. Fruit trees in full bloom that had been shrouded in a veil of darkness became more and more pronounced with the rising of the Light, and a mist could be seen hovering above the surface of the water.
Yes, the time was indeed at hand. The intoxicating smell of mountain heather wafted in the air, and all eyes were focused upon the mist. For no one wanted to miss the ignition of the fire cloud.
No, it is not that the mist was about to actually catch fire, but it was still aptly named. For it would go from a swirling mix of gunmetal-blue and battleship-gray to a hundred different shades of red, orange and yellow in a twinkling of an eye if everything was just right when the first rays of the sun peeked over the horizon a few days each year.
Adding all the more to the wonder was the reflection of the fire cloud upon the surface of the water. For every ripple would take on the appearance of a tongue of flame, and one could even see the apparent fire race across the surface of the lake from the east to the west if they stood at just the right spot.
Still is hardly an adequate word to describe the atmosphere as the sun crept ever closer toward the breaking of the dawn. For it was as if all of nature held its breath in eager anticipation, and the silence was deafening.
Finally, a collective gasp could be heard as the fire cloud began to erupt. This was followed by the sounds of singing birds, croaking frogs and the hearty cheers from the throng of people in attendance. Fish jumping out of the water added some rhythm to the chorus. Be assured that joy abounded in the hearts, minds and souls of all who had been given eyes to see such a spectacular sight.
Right on cue, the piercing cry of an osprey soaring high overhead signaled the end of the show, which had lasted but for a moment or two. Nonetheless, it was a memory that would surely last for a lifetime, and no one left disappointed.
Calvin was certainly overjoyed to be there, but it was not just in regards to the fire cloud that he felt as such. In fact, he paid less attention to it than anyone else in attendance. For his eyes were trained upon a much more beautiful sight to him.
Nonetheless, Calvin did appreciate how much the fire cloud complimented the brilliance of her eyes. For it literally took his breath away when its spectacular display of reds, oranges and yellows reflected off of their emerald-green centers encircled by a sapphire-blue ring.
Calvin also appreciated how much the dazzling colors enhanced the natural iridescence of her hair. For each strand varied from reddish-brown to honey blond, and in the light of the fire cloud, her hair appeared to glow.
Her name was Cassandra, and she was indeed quite a sight to behold. For from the top of her head to the soles of her feet, she was a vision of physical perfection, and the most beautiful part about her was her heart!
It was Calvin’s duty to protect her from harm, but he did not see it as such. For he had fallen madly in love with Cassandra, and there was not another place he would rather be than by her side.
“Stop staring,” Cassandra whispered. “It’s embarrassing.”
“Just doing my duty, my lady.”
Cassandra did not have to look to see the twinkle in Calvin’s eyes as he answered her feigned rebuke. For she could hear it in his voice, and Cassandra tried hard to stifle a giggle.
Cassandra’s efforts proved futile, which caused some heads to turn. She scolded Calvin under her breath, “See what you have done!” Calvin just grinned, and Cassandra shook her head as if thoroughly disgusted for the benefit of the crowd.
To be quite honest about it, Cassandra actually delighted in the constant attention Calvin lavished upon her. For he always made her feel so very special—even almost worthy of her station in life, which was to be the future queen of the land.
To be the future queen had been Cassandra’s station since birth. For her marriage to the Prince had been arranged long before she was born, and in accordance to the custom of the land, the Prince would become the King and she would become his queen, as soon as they took their vows.
To Cassandra’s credit, she did not take her station for granted. If anything, Cassandra took it more seriously than she should.
No, it is not that Cassandra considered her station a burden, but she did have grave concerns. For she had not even met the Prince, and she worried about what he would think of her when it was time for them to meet for the first time—not to mention what he would feel about her in the years to come.
Logic would dictate that Cassandra had a good reason to have her concerns. For the Prince was, after all, the King’s only son and appeared to know nothing else but nobility. Whereas, Cassandra was a commoner and did not feel the least bit noble.
Granted, it was customary for nobility to marry commoners in order to avoid too much class distinction. Furthermore, Cassandra had mastered every class she had been required to take since she was six years-old. Therefore, Cassandra knew how to act noble, but she recognized that this was not the same as feeling noble.
One would think that Cassandra would have been more concerned with how the Prince would treat her. For the fact of his father appearing to be so wonderful was no guarantee that his son would be the same way. Besides, appearances can be quite deceiving.
Cassandra believed that she had trustworthy insight on that, though. For she had been told by those who would know that Calvin’s other duty was to serve as a body-double for the Prince and one of the main reasons why he had been chosen for such a great honor was on account of how similar he was to the Prince—both in appearance and mannerisms. In fact, it was said that the only thing different about them was a heart-shaped birthmark in the center of the Prince’s chest.
Yes, Cassandra understood that it was what was on the inside that really counted and being similar was not the same as being identical. After all, the Prince might not see her in the same light as Calvin appeared to. She had hope, however, and that hope was in the possibility of the Prince actually being as much like Calvin on the inside as Calvin was supposed to be like the Prince on the outside.
True to form, Calvin had been watching her the whole time, and he could see that Cassandra’s mind was no longer on where they were. So, he leaned down and softly asked, “A token for your thoughts?”
With an impish grin and a subtle slyness to her voice, Cassandra asked, "A token of what?"
“My esteem, of course,” Calvin answered with a furrow in his brow.
Without missing a beat, Cassandra shot back, “But is that not already freely given?”
Feigning exasperation, Calvin answered, “That it is, my lady, but how much more can you want?”
With a broad smile, Cassandra closed her eyes and half-sighed in reply, “I want it all.”
This brought an equally broad smile to Calvin’s face, and he hated having to tell her that it was time for them to go. On the other hand, the call of duty was paramount. Therefore, he was obliged to tell her, “The others have all gone, my lady, and there is much to do.”
“Alas, the burden of my responsibilities is indeed great,” Cassandra sighed.
Calvin immediately let out a laugh that could be heard on the other side of the lake, and he was still chuckling as they made their way back to the mansion that had been prepared for Cassandra to reside in before the wedding. Cassandra just smiled, which added even more to Calvin’s delight.
The path they were taking was near the bottom of a deep hollow. Mighty oaks dominated the hillsides, and weeping willows drooped low over a babbling brook.
Not a word was uttered by either Cassandra or Calvin as they walked, but this is not to say that they traveled in complete silence. For a murder of crows sounded out with what someone with enough imagination could consider as being like a procession march.
Several squirrels in the area also had their part to play, but from the tone of their barking, they did not sound very happy about it. Squirrels can be rather cranky at times, I am told.
Cassandra’s abode soon came into view, and the captain of the palace guard was waiting on them at the front door to announce, “The Prince has requested the pleasure of your company, my lady, and he would like to see you as soon as possible.”
Cassandra fainted dead away, but Calvin caught her before her head could hit the ground. He then carried her inside and laid her gently upon her bed.